Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Singer: Religion's regressive hold on animal rights issues

Peter Singer wonders how we can promote the need for improved animal welfare when battling ancient religious views.
The chief minister's [Mohamad Ali Rustam of Malacca] comment is yet another illustration of the generally regressive influence that religion has on ethical issues – whether they are concerned with the status of women, with sexuality, with end-of-life decisions in medicine, with the environment, or with animals. Although religions do change, they change slowly, and tend to preserve attitudes that have become obsolete and often are positively harmful.

"Go forth and multiply" was a reasonable idea when the world had a few million humans in it. Now, unrestricted multiplication of our species has become a grave risk to the environment of our planet, and a significant cause of infant mortality and poverty. Yet some religious leaders continue to condemn not only abortion, but also contraception, and their condemnation of homosexuality also has the same roots in the non-reproductive nature of same-sex relationships.

In the same way, there has been great progress, worldwide, in attitudes to animals over the past century, but some religious believers, such as Mohamad Ali Rustam, remain stuck with attitudes that were formed many centuries ago.

Independently of the problems of reactionary religious belief, the trend to establish animal testing facilities in countries with weak or no regulations is an extremely worrying one. As regulations improve in Europe, North America, Australia and other countries, it seems that unscrupulous entrepreneurs are engaged in a race to the bottom.

If we are concerned about the exploitation of human workers in countries with low standards of worker protection, we should also be concerned about the treatment of even more defenceless non-human animals. At present, the only hope of reversing this trend seems to be pressure on companies not to test their products in countries without good animal welfare regulations, and pressure on research institutions not to have links with such countries. But to unravel the connections and make them clear to consumers is, unfortunately, going to be a difficult task.

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